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SAFER ARIZONA CANNABIS LEGALIZATION ACT

      Safer Arizona Cannabis Legalization Act - Jason Harvey

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This new initiative is trying to get ballot access for November 2018. Whatever your thoughts are on the matter, have an open mind about this topic. So sit back, relax and tune in for another episode.

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Reference:

Arizona group files initiative to put recreational marijuana on ballot again

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The Dad Episode

The Dad Episode

      The Dad Episode - Jason Harvey

It’s official….I mean, it has been official for about 7 months now. I’m a father. So please lend your ears as I speak about the hopes and fears I have of being a new father.

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Autumn Harley & the Indian Ghost

A Tribe Apart Part II

At one point this article was going to address the mainstream of the European to American Heavy Metal Explosion that happened in the late 1970s and burst into the 80s.  Acts such as Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath brought a new theatrical heavy core to the music world, and American bands like Metallica would pick up the torch and burst with it into the American mainstream.  Incidentally, I saw all three of those bands this summer… within about seven weeks.

I told all of my friends that I found a Delorean.

 

I first saw Metallica with Guns N Roses and Faith no More at Phoenix International Raceway, back in 1992.  That was one absolutely fantastic show!  The Black Album had just come out, and even with a broken arm Hetfield and gang completely rocked!

 

Here we are twenty-five years later, Metallica has just released their greatest record since (arguably Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, or Black… depending on your sentimentality.)  And I just interviewed with I DON’T KONFORM, who recorded their debut album with Flemming Rasmussen, who recorded two of those iconic Metallica albums!  

Could it be introduced however, by a quick look at the dichotomy of people at a Metallica concert?  What does a band that has songs like Seek & Destroy {which has been famously used as a get pumped up for the “mission” kind of song} and intensely anti-war songs like One really say to people?  At one point, James Hetfield called out, “Tonight we are not republican or democrat; I don’t care about your politics; I don’t care who you love; I don’t care who you voted for… tonight, we are all one Metallica family and we are One.”

But the article is not going to be about that.

Little did I know how true of a prelude the words actually were.

 

At one point this article was going to explore the changing face of the motorcycle world by analyzing the falling sales of Harley Davidson and the rapid rise back to prominence of Indian Motorcycles.  The article could focus on the counter culture elements of motorcycles and rock n roll, and discuss why sides were so easily drawn and gangs were so easily formed.  It would be an article about the end of an era.

Young People Aren’t Saving Harley Davidson.  It is interesting because, again at one point in my thinking, this was going to be the article.  The Millennials are not wanting to be Easy Rider.  They are wanting to be a cool looking cat, on a really nice bobbed out machine, absolutely owning the pub crawl.  That is cool, and I am not judging, but those bikes don’t rule the highway and cruise the country.  Those bikes stay home.

Indian Motorcycles is having a Hell of a Year on the Flat Track.  As we sat at Ozzy, where, by the way Indian Motorcycles was the primary sponsor of all the bands at the Legendary Buffalo Chip, and Harley was nary to be noticed…. at all.  And Indian gave away three bikes that night…. three really fast bikes that had been on the flat track racing … that day.  It was cool, but the grumbling of the aging Harley crowd, was obvious….. and the lack of applause during Indian’s presentations…. was also noted.

Indian Motorcycles are still moving upward in their control of market share.  So Harley is down…. and it is becoming a trend…. and Indian is up…. and it is becoming a trend.  And my buddy Jason Montiel rides Autumn, and Autumn is a Harley Davidson Black Line.  I call myself Ghost Writer, and I ride a Dark Horse Indian Chief named Jiibay {Spirit/ Ghost in Obijwe}.

It would be interesting, as we drive, talk, ride, and enjoy a fantastic vacation, to have this experience to reflect on as we discuss the changes taking place in not only music but the motorcycling world as well.  Two tribes, set apart from convention, that are both seeing historic changes in almost everything about their core business model.

So far, my plan is to review several recent articles about the changing face of the highway in terms of motorcyclists, and take a look at if what I see here mirrors the findings of the article.

But this article is not going to be about that.

At another point this article was going to be a living travel blog of a once in a lifetime adventure.  Two friends who had known each other for twenty-eight years going to the 77th Annual Black Hills Motorcycle Rally at Sturgis!  It would be the travel diary of two road warriors!  I would upload my GoPro footage, and people would tune in to see the daily antics of two modern day Peter Pans!

 

But in our infinite rise in technological abilit we are ultimately limited by WiFi connectivity and roaming charges.  So this article couldn’t be about that.

Once again, I went into a project with a specific plan, and once again the plan evolved, changed, reversed course, and began to follow its own trajectory even as I explored the events that would eventually fuel it.  Sometimes, and perhaps most times, as is proving true, my Muse has other plans than even I am aware of.

It seemed that everywhere I looked around Sturgis, I could try to find some sort of evidence that there was a divide happening within the motorcycle community.  Perhaps I could have stretched and gone out on a limb, and tried to say that because the overwhelmingly Harley driving audience at The Buffalo Chip didn’t seem thrilled that Indian was such a heavily involved sponsor that therefore there must then be a looming problem.

 

The fact is though, those few moments were few and far between.  They would have been a streching bit of proof at best.  Overwhelmingly, the more I looked for divisions in the Sturgis demographic the more I saw a diverse group of people capable of overlooking differences.

So… by the middle of the trip, several hundred miles of road behind us, and several hundred more in front, I still didn’t know really what I was going to write about.  I knew it was going to have something to do with change.  It was going to have something to do with the speed of that change.  It was going to have something to do with time, and the speed of its passing combined with the ridiculous speed of technological industry.  It is like a cannon straight into Brave New World.

I had ideas, I had silent meditations on avenues I let my mind travel as I drove and twisted amoung the Black Hills Motorcyclist Playground.  I allowed my mind to just spin, hoping that something would awaken, and the article would leap off the page and be profound.

 

I allowed myself to dream and to wonder about the truth of modern conspiracies, and it was hard to read some of the headlines in association with the looming heavenly event and not think about the possibilities and the coincidences.  We had been to see Ozzy, and bought his special limited edition Blood Moon Wine, a commemorative vintage marking the Full Eclipse, that was also marking the end of the world… to some.  How fitting.

The World is Going to End.  And you know?  You can’t make some of this stuff up, and no, I am not one of these crazy nut jobs…. but I have to admit, that I am a fan of coincidence and just random chaos all of a sudden lining up and not being chaotic.  Things that make you go hmmmm.

Hopi Legend It is not as if I did not just do a huge travel article on the legends and mythology of the Hopi, and it is not as if some of the strange links do not, nor should not, give one pause.  They are quite interesting.

The Blue Kachina Star.  So when NASA starts to actually verify some of these crazy moments of freaky mumbo jumbo….. it is crazy!

Now… Ozzy Osbourne even had a limited vintage wine made to commemorate the occasion…. so, when else did Crazy Bible Fringe Folks, Hopi American Indians, NASA, and Ozzy agreed on anything????

I bought three bottles.  It was a special Sturgis pack.  They come in a coffin.  If the world is going to end next week….. drink well.

So… What is this Article About ???

This article is about riding what you love.  Doing what you love.  It is about the absolute waste of time of worrying about expectations.  This article is about embracing life as nothing more than a series of successful days, and loving the journey and the building process and potential of each of those individual days.  This article is about recognizing your limitations, and not allowing plans gone awry to influence your ability to adapt and have a wonderful experience.  This article is about the power of really everything…. being in our own hands.  This article is about embracing….. each…… moment.

Carpe Diem.

The more that I looked for difference, the more kindred spirits I found.  Yes, there were Trump supporters everywhere, and yes, everyone knows that that is certainly not my jam… but we could ride together.  I knew those guys had my back, and I had theirs.  I found myself really trying to look at things from their perspective, and they taught me lessons in being objective.

The more I looked for Harley and Indian gangs, the more I saw groups just like me and my buddy Jason.  Mixed riders, on mixed brands, enjoying a life seen between handle bars and rumbling over asphalt on two wheels and a meticulously designed machine.  Is there a season of change taking place…. but the only constant in this world is CHANGE…

Enjoying life is learning how to negotiate the turns of those changes, press hard, look lean and roll, and keeping the greasy side down.  Life is about finding commonalities in people that give you reasons to spend time…. NOT about exaggerating your differences.  Differences will always exist, and they are not hard to find.

My friends… I had the trip of a lifetime.  I feel like I have been plugged into the almighty Universe and recharged.  I am looking at two months of HEAVY HEAVY fun times.  Spirits of Jerome is coming.  E Store is getting ready to launch.  The Spirit Room is just around the corner.  It is GO TIME !

 

KEEP THE GREASY SIDE DOWN !

The Sound & the Fury : the Rebirth of Heavy Metal

A Tribe Apart Part I

A Conversation with I Don’t Konform

Brutal.  Fast.  Full Fisted Fury.  Hard rock and heavy metal music are certainly not for everyone.  With loud, distorted, shrieking guitars, often layers of them, pounding drums, and screaming, often times operatic, vocals, it is easy to see why there is not a place for these bands on “popular” music stations.  Many would go from Katy Perry to Matchbox Twenty and even to softer Ozzy Ozbourne or Metallica, on their office-mix music station, but as soon as Iron Maiden, Pantera, or I Don’t Konform came on, they would flip the station.

In his article The Slow Death of Heavy Metal for Observer Music, Bryan Reesman starts off blaming the overall decline of heavy music on “Top 40 charts, radio airplay, and music award broadcasts that have been dominated by anemic pop music and hipster rock.  In the same article, Reesman also quotes “Guitar icon Slash told Radio Nova in Sweden this summer that he felt “even heavy metal bands are trying to be Top 40.”  Why wouldn’t they?  It is all that is being played.  It is all that is being listened to.  Top 40 radio is a self fulfilling prophecy; you just have to be one of the lucky few.

Thus… the focus becomes being a better player of the game… not a better player of music.

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But heavy music has a place, it has a ravenous following, and it persists… although it is never fully embraced by society.   In fact, one could argue that many of the stereotypes dealing with metal music have permeated social consciousness more than the music itself.  In other words, there are plenty of people who know metal cliches who have never listened to metal.  Perhaps, there are levels of metal that the common observer has no inclination even exist.  Furthermore, perhaps, the persistence of heavy metal music has much more to do with our social climate than whether or not it has a beat and you can dance to it.

As with most of my other writings, I am not going to spend a lot of time defining my topic.  There are a billion internet sites out there to try to offer you A Brief History of Metal or A Rock Music Timeline: that is not the purpose of this particular series.  This music is raw.  It is visceral.  It is assaultingly intense.  In many ways it is pure, electrified anger… but where does it comes from?  What part of the human experience craves that kind of sustenance?  Trying to understand that part of the human psyche, that type of person, is the purpose of this particular series.

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I have seen the faces from the beautiful people when I am walking past at work, right before we open, and some harsh tyraid is flooding from my pocket jukebox.  I have seen their lip curls and ‘just-so-traumatized-eye-rolls as they ‘like wonder how anybody can like listen to that screaming‘.  Every time, I think of the exact same poem:

“And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?”

_T.S. Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

{Irony is these ladies have never talked to me… they have no idea that this metal head taught poetry… nor would they think to ask… he listens to screamo music.}  This is the major difference between the world of rock and the world of everything else…. I am not going to worry about how I should presume.  I am not going to change.  I am not going to budge.  You budge.  I’m pissed off, and it is time to resist.

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My point here is not to shame the beautiful people into listening to better music.  My point is that even the beautiful people should pause to understand the cultural phenomenon that is taking place in music.  All music.  Music is the language of our emotions… and it is the language of what can still be said on semi-literal stages.  As I discussed with Ivan Denis in our conversation All That I Ever Wanted, the real is gone from our world.  In everything.  Autotune takes care of vocal imperfections.  Airbrushes and Photoshop take care of visual imperfections.  Reality shows are scripted and rehearsed.  Hired social media experts make sure to give your digital image a deep cleaning every day… for a living. Bots flood Facebook making vetting necessary just to figure out who real people are.  But… corporations are people…. and…

you see?

Our world is so out of whack it is rolling with backspin, but everybody is too plugged in to their own small universes to notice it, or,if they do, they certainly don’t talk about it.  And even when you boil it all into perfect satire…. and serve it straight up… they laugh, move on, and do nothing.

(Disclaimer… South Park is completely Rated R… Good Satire usually is.)

 

But I digress…. yes… music…. the language of emotions.  What happens when our emotions are all forced, or fake, or disingenuous?  What happens when the public persona of what everybody is supposed to be is more important than our human capacity to handle what has happened in our lives?

We create a society that has mind altering substances marketed to its people at exuberant prices almost continually.  We become a society where we somehow justify the draconian nature of our laws based on an Us vs. Them philosophy that things will never happen to us.  We all move along like little ants doing our daily routines, and then…, we wake up. Thirty years have gone by, and we wonder where our lives have gone.

In many ways Reality as a character and metal music are expressing the same frustration.

“Considering that many of the genre’s godfathers, who still inspire younger bands and dominate European festivals, will likely retire in a few years, where do things go from here? Will we see heavy bands on the superstar level of Metallica and Iron Maiden ever again? Will that classic sound become a nostalgic relic relegated to oldies bins? – Reesman”

The music we flood into our popular lives conveys this question.  There is no raw edge.  There is no gutsy, live, one take, mistakes are golden… There is computer insured perfection.  There is a pop tune, a hook, and a program to all of it.  Musical acts that are following the rules get radio play, and others… do not.  They pipe the same handful of songs at us, repeat them so much you have them memorized even though you hate them, and spoon feed the predetermined hits… right to you.  This is true in all genres.

“The mass of mediocrity that becomes the common denominator in large society is no place to find art… it is only a place to find regurgitated sameness.”  – me

Anything pushing limits, breaking boundaries, or basically doing anything important… is pushed to the fringes.

So you have to dig.

And when you do… you find I Don’t Konform…. in a Hogaan…. on the Navajo Nation.

 

Once again returning to The Slow Death of Heavy Metal: “Today rock is so deep underground that it’s becoming credible again.  The critical mass is there. The economic and political environment provides you with plenty of reasons to be angry again.  In the meantime, we are looking at a self-induced apocalypse, maybe World War 3, maybe the total collapse of the planet’s ecology. So it may be time again for somebody to say fuck all this, and heavy metal might be just the genre to give you those new voices of rebellion.”

Kyle Felter, lead singer, lead guitar, and frontman of I Don’t Konform rolled the dice like a seasoned Vegas pro, when he “sent out a demo album to Flemming Rasmussen, the Grammy Award-winning producer” of Metallica’s …And Justice For All, Master of Puppets, and Ride the Lightning.  He thought that his band just might have the answer:

Will that classic sound become a nostalgic relic relegated to oldies bins?”

“Hell No!”

Several months later found Rasmussen visiting Window Rock, Arizona and rehearsing with I Don’t Konform “inside a hot hogaan before recording their debut album at his iconic Sweet Silence Studio in Denmark. As Rasmussen states, after hearing their demo:

“a specific technical element wasn’t what stood out for me but the raw emotion and the thematic rage running through their music stood out as something refreshing and unique.”

 – Rez Metal Documentary Website

Raw Emotion.  Thematic Rage.  Dig.  This is where my official interview with I Don’t Konform really began.  This is the place my curiosity had taken me.  “I do to a lot of concerts,” I began, and then re-emphasized, “A lot of concerts.  One thing is fairly certain, you do not see a high percentage of Native Americans at many shows, but if it is Iron Maiden (whom I had just seen at the end of June in Phoenix), there is a striking difference.  Native people were everywhere at that show!”  Kyle and Brett, who spent most of our interview pacing, smiling, and plucking out bass guitar riffs out of the air with practiced fingers, laughed.  “It is obvious that Native folks like metal, so, talk to me about your fan base.  Why is metal music such a language of the Rez?”

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Kyle:  It is really just cultural trauma.  People thinking about it, living it.  It gets passed down, it almost becomes subconscious.  It’s also empathized – the image of metal music is one of outcasts, the misplaced, the malcontents.  Gutsy kids playing instruments in bedrooms, garages, or in our case hogaans, raging out against the whole world.

Ghost Writer:  But isn’t this true of rap and inner city culture as well?  Bands like N.W.A. or Public Enemy raging against a reality that they sought first, to expose, and second, to topple.  Talk about a music that is trying to get a sense of social angst, but you don’t see the same resonance in Native communities with rap as you do with metal.  It’s not like you don’t hear rap on the reservation, but it is not as pervasive as one might think.  What is pervasive is metal.  Why is that?”

Kyle:  “I think it is instruments more than anything.  I teach guitar for community outreach events on the Rez, and yeah, it is the instruments.  Natives love music and love strings.  We love drums.  The beat boxes and drum machines and electronic sampling of a lot of rap does not resonate the same way.”

The cultural trauma that Kyle mentions is the focus of The International Documentary Association’s forthcoming film, Rez Metal, directed and produced by Ashkan Soltani.  “I Don’t Konform is part of a thriving heavy metal scene on reservations where metal has been one of the most popular types of music. In our feature-length documentary, REZ METAL, while following I Don’t Konform’s fairy tale journey from performing on poverty-stricken reservations to recording their debut album with one of the music industry’s most influential producers;

“we will also tell the larger story of the heavy metal scene on Navajo reservations where many youths have grown disaffected as a result of endemic inequality, teen suicides, and high incarceration rate.”

“By exploring individual musicians, fans, and their perspectives on music and modern life, this documentary will capture the universality of their experience and illustrate the many ways in which heavy metal music engages the disenfranchised in constructive anger to effect positive changes in their communities.”

 

According to poll information included with the 2015 United States Census, the top four most metal cities in the country are Cleveland, Portland, and Pittsburg.  Obviously a town like Window Rock or Kayenta is not going to even show up as a blip on the radar, but the similarities one sees in “metal friendly” areas are striking.  If you come from middle america and you are a pissed off working man, you probably liked Meryl Haggard.  If you come from the cities, beneath the steam of factories, where the reality and the fantasy of the American Dream are constantly  juxtaposed in your mind… you probably liked Metallica.

Ghost Writer:  “So you would agree that there is a sense of Marxism about metal music.  This idea of a pissed off bourgeoisie raising up in rebellion against a fat and over satiated proletariat?”

Kyle:  Absolutely.  Metal hast to have an angry pissed off core.  It has to have something to shout at.

Ghost Writer:  What is the most difficult part about being a band… on the reservation?

Kyle:  Motivation.  It is like you are fighting an uphill fight just to prove your band is not just a hobby.  Even after you have gone and recorded in Denmark!  It is hard to get the People to take it seriously.  That might also be that it is like a super extrovert kind of thing to do, to get up on stage and play metal music, but most Navajos are pretty introverted.  So in some ways it feels like you are always working against the rules, or against peoples’ natures.

This point that he alludes to here is quite important.  I can remember as a teacher being so frustrated with certain students.  And no, not just the Native students, although they certainly fit this scenario.  It was like with certain kids, no matter how smart they were, you simply could not get them to exercise any effort at all in their own betterment.  This is a symptom of severely depressed economies or trauma.

And so you stay.  You stay on the reservation.  You stay on the mountain.  You stay working in the coal mines.  You keep doing what you have always done, and eventually you feel…. all the time…. every day… in your core…. Why would you think you were really meant for anything else?  And so you stay.  And nothing changes.  And depression sets in.

Ghost Writer:  So recording in Denmark, $1,000 / day for recording fees, and the final product is a 38 minute long, 8 song CD.  {In all fairness Ride the Lightning is 48 minutes, but also only eight tracks and would also fall into this category as well.}  In a world of iTunes sales, Spotify, and streaming services, you went old school, from production to business angle.  Thoughts?  Regrets?

Kyle:  First of all, analog recording is the way to go, and having that rawness in recording was very important to us.  Having things too perfect, is sucky.  Besides, how many times in your life can you say you had this chance or this opportunity?

In the end, could I Don’t Konform have made a similar album, right here in Arizona, at half the cost and been able to sell the album for less money?  Yes.  Most certainly that would happen.  Additionally, in a world where most albums don’t sell at all, individual songs do, and usually for about a dollar, being able to make the album seem like a deal over the cost of buying individual songs is important.  Whereas, with IDK’s album, they sell it for fifteen dollars.

So immediately one is left wondering if buying the name of Flemming Rassmussen was worth the cost.

Reesman writes in The Slow Death of Heavy Metal that “People listen to music differently now. They don’t have time to sit down and put the record on and give it 30 minutes or whatever. It’s three minutes here, three minutes there, and go text and check Instagram like I do.”

But then I think about dreams.  I think about learning the real lessons of rock n roll.  I think about freedom, and I think about living a life without the fear of failure.

 

I think about dreaming big even though the world is huge and I am just a small dude…. and Yes, you go to Denmark and record your record with one of the living legends of thrash metal.  You do it because you are alive.  You do it because you can sleep when you are dead.  You do it because tomorrow might never happen.  You embrace living.  You embrace raw emotion.  You stop running from that which is not living.

You do it because you are from a hogaan on the Navajo Nation, and sometimes, people need to see a dream be real in order to find dreams of their own.

Ghost Writer:  So what is next for IDK?

Kyle:  Africa.

Ghost Writer:  What!?  {to which Brett starts laughing again.}

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Kyle: Africa and Russia.  There are some festivals over there we have been invited to go to.  Festivals that promote cultural exchange and diversity. They don’t pay… but we don’t have to pay either… and why the hell not?

Exactly.  Why the hell not!  Carpe diem IDK.  That is Rock n Roll!

However, not only is Kyle having a great time with his band, many in the metal community agree with him.  There are fans.  Metal is thriving.  If America has become to decadent for reality…. well… there are other places in the world where Reality is still alive and well.

Dani Filth, frontman for Cradle of Filth, told the Observer:  “We’re not in the upper echelon, but in the scope of things we’re one of the biggest extreme metal bands, but we’re finding it increasingly harder to get out there and make a living. You notice the difference. These days it’s not the same as it was. Maybe in 10 years time it will start getting bigger again. People are looking for answers. There are still the fans.  If touring is where the money is at, then we need to expand into Russia, China, and Eastern Europe, which are starting to embrace metal.”

“It’s the bands with the strongest hunger that tend to make their mark, and these days one has to have a more than healthy appetite for the grind of touring to break through,” Reesman writes towards the conclusion of The Slow Death of Heavy Metal.

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These three guys from the Navajo Nation might just be the ones for the task.   They along with the youthful next generation of heavy metal coming from the nations in the world that still know what the sting of Reality feels like.  There are still the disenfranchised.  There are still the rebellions.  There are still the people that are just so tired and fed up with the bullshit, that they have nothing but devil horns in the air, a cold beer, and rock n roll music.

If America has forgotten that… irony of ironies… the music will go to where the fans are.

But as Ressman ends his article, and with which I heartily concur,

“But then perhaps the voice of rebellion is needed where it is called for; it sounds like America desperately needs it once again.”

You can next see IDK in Tempe at The Tempe Tavern, where I Don’t Konform will be closing out a birthday bash show on Friday July 28th !

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Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends.

 

Kody Dayish Cast to Co-Star with Adam Beach in Upcoming Film: Desert

On Both Sides of the Lens:

Catching Up With Kody Dayish Productions

The life of an artist comes in bursts at times.  Projects can be all encompassing, and then the drought between gigs can be filled with downtime.  This does not seem to be much of an issue for Kody, Kolette, and Kolin Dayish who seem to have more than enough ways to not only keep themselves busy and productive, but to inspire us as well.

“Life is to be lived!  Get busy doing something that will make a difference!  Something that will last!  Something that will help another soul!  The Dayish trio puts leading by example at the heart of their business model.”

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When last we touched base with Kody, in my feature article A Quest of Vision, we were discussing the feature film The Red Hogaan, its journey to fruition, and its plans for the future.  At the time of this posting, the film is still being evaluated for inclusion in several film festivals.  Believe me, the wait is arduous on the the artist as well!  Kody promises that when there is news on the film to be made public, Keep the Greasy Side Down will be the first to know!

In the meantime – what this man does to fill his days is inspiring in and of itself!

Kody Dayish – Actor Extraordinaire

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Cast in a co-starring role with Adam Beach, Anna Mouglalis, and Vincent Bonillo, Kody will be joining the cast and crew of Desert, a 2018 feature film from director Frederic Choffat.  Filming is set for a week in the Flagstaff area in October.

Many other filmmakers are also actors.  Ben Affleck, Kenneth Branaugh, Ben Stiller, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Ron Howard… just to name a few that come immediately to mind.  It is an important aspect of a filmmakers journey: first, to have an in-depth understanding of all sides of a production, but second, the contacts, connections, and networking possibilities are huge!  Especially for a filmmaker, like Kody, who has already achieved accolades with his own film projects.

Kody Dayish – Filmmaker of Social Conscious

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In the last several months, Kody Dayish Production Team has been actively working on a series of films for the Navajo Nation to be used as public service announcements and for community outreach events.  The project is entitled Spared, and is is divided into three parts: Spared, Spared Part II: The Suffering, and the upcoming Spared Part III: This is Home.  The series focuses specifically on reservation problems, but they are also societal problems, specifically: bullying, domestic violence, and unlawful dumping.

 

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Ever vigilante in pursuing his vision, Kody did not rest on his laurels with The Red Hogaan out in the world with high hopes.  He actively submitted his projects to other film festivals around the country.  The first to arrive this fall will be the Hibulb Film Festival in Tulalip, Washington.  Kody’s films The Beginning, Spared, and the music video Goodbye will all be screened at the festival.

 

As the Dayish siblings traveled around Arizona and New Mexico filming the trilogy, they not only found time to take their young stars to see Spider-Man: Homecoming, but they also offered several workshops and screening for interested youth in the various communities to learn about film making.  Kody always told me his passion was to inspire the youth to be more, achieve more, realize that they could truly be anything that they wanted to be.  He is doing all in his power to use his vision to achieve this goal.

Kody Dayish – Singer/ Songwriter – Our Last Chants

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As a side project, Kody, Kolin, and the lovely Miss Navajo Nation Alex Holiday, make up the Folk/Native Band, Our Last Chants.  With their debut album, East, on the way, the band/ and Production Crew will be performing gigs and offering film-making workshops throughout Arizona, Nevada, and California as they head north to screen their films.

 

This crew of folks from the Navajo Nation are an inspiration to the Dine, to the youth, and to all of us as what is possible in a world where often times… dreams seem to fade.

If you are interested in booking Kody Dayish Productions or Our Last Chants please follow the link below for details:

 

Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends !

 

 

Sonoran Silver & Water: A Yaqui History

A Conversation with Cozme “Sky Walker” Duarte

“There is not one Indian in the whole of this country who does not cringe in anguish and frustration because of these text books.  There is not one Indian child who has not come home in shame and tears.  – Rupert Costo”

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North Tucson is familiar to me.  The crags and cliffs of the Catalina mountains, and the high desert cacti, mesquite, saguaro and palo verde have a beauty to them that still manages to persist although Tucson is expanding in all directions much the same as all major cities.  That all begins to change however as one snakes along the far western edge of the city, down a crowded I – 10, beneath ‘A’ mountain, and continues to veer south on the I-19 to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.  Lush ground cover gives way to sparse creosote and lonely scrub mesquite, and as I exit on Valencia and continue further west, I look out at  a desert valley surrounded by rock covered hills and low mountains.  The landscape is harsh, barren, with dust dervishes spinning in a devilish haze with the slightest warm gust of breeze.  Very little changes in this landscape if one were to head south… the sonoran desert is a parched, lonely waste foreboding and not at all for the faint of heart.  Parched earth, sparse plant life, and rock… stretch for miles until one stumbles from the desert into the Sea of Cortez.

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This is the land of the Yaqui, in Arizona, more specifically the Pascua Yaqui.  My friend Cozme Duarte, himself a Yaqui but now living in Colorado where he just completed filming the final season of Longmire for Netflix, thanked me when he heard of my Arizona Research Tour 3: Yaqui Land.  “Thank you for paying attention to one of the Greatest Nations you will never hear about.”  The echoing sadness of that statement haunts me: the greatest Nation you will never hear about.

Cozme is one of the most peaceful yet savage; humble yet proud; fierce but readily friendly human beings I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know.  His genuine sincerity and thankfulness for a person, such as I, white, brown, purple – honestly took me completely by surprise.  But, race would not matter to Cozme.  For a celebrity, although that title makes him kind of giggle and shrug it off, he is one of the nicest guys I think I have ever talked to!  “We are all brothers.  Like my mentor Bruce Lee taught, I am a human first, under the heavens we are are related.”

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I turned south off of Valencia and headed onto the desolate Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation.  One of the most challenging things of my travels as I tour the homelands and history of Arizona’s Native Peoples, is the degree of sacred and spiritual significance that is imbued in almost every aspect of their cultures.  On one hand, this is almost awe inspiring – that even in the modern era of the Information Age, where almost anything and everything can be found in a few clicks of a keyboard, somethings still have enough value for secrecy to matter.  On the other hand, one of the first things that I want to do with new found knowledge is share it, so it can be frustrating to not be able to take pictures.

 

That said, respectfully, I did not take photos of sacred artifacts or museum exhibits.  Instead – I have relied on the Internet – just like every other researcher in the world does – and have provided some links herein opening the mystery of a people who have lived right along side of metropolitan Arizona history.  The Pascua Yaqui have two tribal communities in Arizona: South Tucson and Guadalupe (as in just south of Tempe).  The Greatest Nation you have never heard of… 

Who Are the Yaqui ?

As I began, in my very first Arizona Native Research Article: Ashes & Ghosts, I started this entire journey with a very in depth discussion of mythology.  As I told you then, and I continue to profess now, I am not an expert in Native American history.  I am not an expert in Native American religions.  Frankly I am not even an expert on Arizona.  Readers, what I am is infinitely curious, and I am motivated by a fierce desire to learn, and once I catch the bug I usually will dive as deeply down that rabbit hole as I can go.  And the place to start in the understanding of any people are their deepest beliefs – their mythology and origins.

 

 

The magic of any people, regardless of country of origin, is where they link to something supernatural, where there physical reality crosses with that of the spiritual.  Whether we are discussing Christians believing in a man who rose from the dead and then ascended into heaven or the Yaqui People being those Serum who stayed behind, braving the future dangers to come, we can find the commonality that could bind us within the very thing that usually divides us.

I am not a self proclaimed professor of the Yaqui.  I am not a tribal ambassador, but what I am is a writer composed completely of wonder.  I stand in awe of the depth and purity of Native history.  I stand amazed at the connection the People have to the world of spirit.  I stand in reverence to a people who are filled with so much pride despite every single effort in history to remove it.  I am led along in my quest, daring to hope… that perhaps just being brave enough to want to know and to ask… is enough…

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The Rio Yaqui runs north/ south nearly straight through the center of Mexico.  It is the fertile river valley homeland of the Yaqui People going back to time immeasurable.  Yaqui are not Mexican, nor are they descended from the Spanish invaders, nor are they Aztec or Mayan.  Although they are grouped into the Uto-Aztecan ancestry, this is a connection based on linguistic similarities of thirty different indigenous Peoples.  This distinction is important because, as Guillermo “Bill” Quiroga, an Elder who volunteers his time at the Old Pascua House Museum in Downtown Tucson, told me,

“The Spanish would have the People believe that all were indigenous.  The Mexican Government would have the People believe all were indigenous.  This is not true.  The Yaqui People are indigenous, and were here before, and this has always meant war.”

In Mexico, a caste system quickly developed, and at the bottom of that caste system were the indigenous People of Sonora, who were often kidnapped and used for slave labor by the Mexican Government.  These troubles did nothing but compound in the late 17th century when silver was discovered along the Rio Yaqui.  Never is the worth of differing human beings more obvious than when measured against the natural resources over which they inhabit.

“Beginning around 1684, the Spanish who treasured the silver stone began moving into the area, began taking sacred Yaqui land, an continued to treat the Yaqui People disrespectfully.  In 1740 the Yaqui tribe and the neighboring Mayo tribe united to try to force the SPanish out of God-given Indian lands.  For the next 190 years, the Yaqui people fought first the Spanish and then the Mexicans. – Ernesto Quiroga Sandoval”

I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona.  I attended public schools in Tucson and San Manuel, Arizona.  I was educated at the two largest universities of my home state: UofA and ASU.  I have lived in Arizona for nearly the entirety of four decades.

Why, dear reader, I must ask you, why… have I never, not even one time, learned about the Yaqui Wars?

Ghost Writer:  Cozme, I know you are a Yaqui Indian, but where were you raised and educated? In that education, how much of your own Native history was included as part of your curriculum?

Cozme: (pronounced Coz-meh meaning Cosmos – hence the nickname, Sky Walker) I am Sonoran Yaqui, but I was raised and educated in Montrose, Colorado.  I am sure that our text books were quite similar to yours; I learned no true, Native American history in text books. Andrew Jackson, Presidential stories, the British: these are the things they teach in history class.  Everything I learned of the People, I learned from family and my own investigation.

 

Ghost Writer:  You told me, and it stuck with me, the Yaqui were the greatest warrior civilization that nobody has ever heard of. Why is that do you think?

Cozme:  The Yaqui are peaceful. We are not invaders or conquerors. All war, all of it, for centuries, was defensive.  It was defending our own homelands since time before history.  Most tribes faced eradication from one side only: the United States, but the Yaqui faced it from all sides.  It came from the Spanish, then the French, then after a few hundred years of intermixing, the Mexicans, and then the United States.  War came at the Yaqui from all sides, and their was no refuge for many many years.   Many Yaquis changed their names to Spanish last names to hide and not be murdered or assassinated.  (Guillermo, too, told me at the Old Pascua House that he was born in California, as his family was in exile hiding form the Mexican and US governments.) Many native tribes were in some ways aided by the reservations in terms of being able to put together their history…. but for the Yaqui… they were a chameleon people…. forced to change and hide until finally wars ended and government attitudes changed.

Ghost Writer:  But don’t the Pascua-Yaqui have a Federally recognized reservation now, in South Tucson?

Cozme:  Yes, but Pascua means Easter.  These are the People linked to Catholicism.  I am Yaqui.  I am not one of them.

And so I started to dig… because in the era of fake news and pseudo-experts folks, that is what you ought to do.  Question and dig.

Daily Yellowstone Journal  1886  “A Troublesome Indian Race”

Salt Lake Herald  1894  “Fought with the Weapons of Nature”

The Evening Dispatch  1895  “The Yaqui War”

Mohave County Miner 1897  “The Yaquis and Their Heroic Story”

The San Francisco Call 1899  “Mexico to Blame for the Yaqui War”

The Argus 1899  “War with Yaquis”

Albuquerque Morning Journal 1906  “Truth About the Yaquis as Told by Gen. Torres”

The Alamogordo News 1907  “Another Wail From Mexico”

The Los Angeles Herald 1909  “The Yaquis – Most Stubborn Fighters on Earth”

The Hawaiian Star 1909  “The True History of the Yaqui Trouble in Mexico”

The Evening Star 1915  “The Yaqui Indians are a Big Factor in the Mexican Situation”

So again, supplied with this wealth of headlines from across multiple states, how can a Native Arizonan, educated completely in his home state, not once hear of the Yaqui Wars?

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Buy the Classic Book on AMAZON HERE !!!

“Historically, American Indians have been the most lied-about subset of our population.  That’s why Michael Dorris said that, in learning about Native Americans, “One does not start from point zero, but from minus ten.”  High school students start below zero because of their textbooks, which unapologetically present Native Americans through white eyes. – Loewen”

As the conflict increased, eventually the Yaqui were splintered and many were either slaughtered, enslaved, or were able to flee north into Arizona.  A period of espionage, armed conflict, and even assassination attempts followed with the Yaquis who had lived in the Gila and Santa Cruz river valleys uniting with their exiled brothers against not only attacks from the Mexicans to the south but also the United States Cavalry as Indians were being systematically gathered onto Reservations.  It was not until 1978 at the Pascua-Yaqui were seen as a Federally recognized tribe.

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The Old Pascua House built in 1903 in Tucson, is the only remnant of the original Pascua Yaqui community in what would eventually become the downtown area.

Juxtaposed with this long history of defensive struggles against a usurping and conquering people, is the absolute astounding beauty of the Five Enchanted Worlds.  As the Pascua-Yaqui settled into the arid solitary expanses of the Sonora, their dances and spiritual guides connected them to the life pulsing beneath the rock and sand and showed them how to thrive in the desert.

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The Five Enchanted Worlds are:

  • The Huya Ania (The Wilderness World) where all beasts and stones and plants reside
  • The Yo Ania (The Cave World) where the Serum who stayed hide and guard sources of secret power
  • The Tuka Ania (The Night World) where all that is unusual and unknown resides.
  • The Tenku Ania (The Dreams World) filled with the collective dreams of all Yaqui
  • The Sea Ania (The Flower World) or the world beneath the Dawn where brother deer guides the soul and the tribe to success and prosperity

Imagine then, the Yaqui Deer Dancer, portraying with graceful precision the deer as it moves, ever wary, adorned with red ribbons symbolizing the beauty of the flowers and the growth under the sun.  He channels the spirit of brother deer, opening a spiritual portal of understanding and guidance: a connection between the world of the soul and the world of the body that most of us have learned to ignore if not fear.

 

With the settling and gathering of the Yaqui peoples under the sovereignty of the Pascua-Yaqui communities in Arizona, the peaceful nature of the Yaqui People, and the proximity of the Franciscans and Jesuit missionaries, many of the Yaqui People converted to Catholicism.  Many, if not already Catholic from the centuries long encroachment by the Spaniards in the Rio Yaqui Valley, found it easy to adapt to the ways of their revered protectors, as many near San Xavier were seen by Yaqui refugees.  In Sonohora, the first Jesuit missionaries encountered the People as early as 1533.

This theme, of an historically pagan people, converting to the belief structure of their conquerors is repeated over and over again in Native American history.  I learned about the tribe’s efforts to actively resist conversion on the Hopi Reservation, and I witnessed the tribal embrace of Christianity on the Navajo and Apache Reservations.  This relationship is much more obvious in Native customs, than say Anglo customs, as many of the Native traditions are still in active practice even in Christian communities.

Ghost Writer:  From what I have been able to gather from viewing Yaqui ceremonies, and looking at photographs and video in the museum, the Yaqui are an intensely Jesuit/ Catholic people, but they were not always this way. They have the deep mythology of the little people ancestors and the talking tree… as well as the five different worlds. My question, is do these spiritual beliefs coexist with the Christian beliefs, or have the old ways of the five worlds been more or less replaced now as just a symbol? In other words, do the Yaqui still believe in their ancient magic, or was it lost with the embrace of Christianity?

Cozme:   There is no native nation that is like the Yaqui in this way, but the Yaqui… as a Nation are intertwined with Catholicism. It is almost how to be Jewish is both a religion and a race.  The Yaqui have been deeply effected by the Catholic faith for centuries.  The five worlds are referring to dimensions. It is important to remember, that in any belief system, there are other dimensions or other realities, each with different purposes, different entities, and different beings.  There are portals and doorways and paths of spirit between the worlds.  Any ancient culture… it is always there. Most of the Yaqui depth is down in Sonora;  you will not find that there in Arizona. We are the product of Spanish conquest…. in many ways the American Indian Yaqui are the most assimilated,  but our roots in Sonora are ancient…. and proud. Pascua Yaqui are basically declaring their Catholicism. Pascua means Easter, so even the name of the tribe declares their Christianity. Like I said, I am not one of them.

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Ghost Writer:  What is the most pressing concern to the Pasqua-Yaqui today, and as a celebrity, or rising star, what do you do to try to advance this cause?

Cozme:  There is a huge battle in Sonora right now… for water. There are seven towns, seven original pueblos of the Yaqui Nation in Sonora.  They all feed off of the Rio Yaqui, but the corporations are coming in and making deals with Mexican officials.  They have  built a plant in Sonora, and they are now stealing the river from the Yaqui and piping it to the plant for Heineken beer and Coca Cola products and Corona… cheaply… at the cost of the Yaqui in Sonora.

I have been speaking out about this cause…. I went to Standing Rock a couple of times.  I try to stand with all people: the Ute, the Navajo, the Apache: we are all brothers.  We are all united.  But this water war is DIRTY down in Mexico. Leaders of the resistance just get murdered and disappear. An ambassador even made it to New York to petition the United Nations on behalf of the Yaqui Nation within the last couple of months.  Nobody is listening.

One of the only reasons I am pursuing a career in acting is to achieve a platform to try to bring justice to the atrocities in Sonora.  It is about unity, and it is about gaining and using your voice. Warrior Nation is my foundation, and I am hoping to get it off the ground this year. I believe in a humanistic approach… justice for one group by applying justice to all groups.

The resistance is ripe…. Everybody is ready….

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Ghost Writer:  If there was one thing… just one simple thing…. that if all people could do, all at once, just one simple gesture… one small change to the world… that would instantly make it a better place… what would that one small change be?

Cozme:  Love is the only thing that has that kind of power. Just being neighbors.  Just saying hello. Stop seeing race. Stop seeing creed. Ripples… create waves. Express love. Being capable of love allows one to being capable of understanding

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Ghost Writer:  Final question, What specifically drew you to wanting to be involved with The Red Hogaan? Even despite its taboo mythology? What was the greatest part of working with Kody Dayish as a young film maker on the rise…?

Cozme:  Kody approached me specifically about a major role in his project.  The role was significant, and I asked him immediately: if the production is supposed to be all Navajo, then why are you offering me the lead?  I am Yaqui.  He told me that because the the deep superstitions of the Dine’, there were simply a couple roles that were going to have to blur the edges.  The Dine’ are really, really superstitious, and the fact that he was even going to do a film like that was going to raise some issues around the Rez.  Kody was willing to take take that risk for the greater vision that he was trying to achieve, and I am not superstitious or afraid, so I took the role.  The interviews with Kody Dayish can be found as part of Ashes & Ghosts, but continued in depth in A Quest of Vision.

One of the coolest things about working with the Dayish family is that that project evolved from a very small piece into a much larger film.  It was cool being a part of that process, both in terms of creativity and in terms of watching Kody’s vision develop.  I was able to open the doorways to a lot of people, and his vision is worth paying attention to.

In the end, as I rolled back north, out of the arid lands of the south, through the beautiful Tucson valley and the majestic Catalinas bordering it to the north, and onward towards the peaks of the Superstition mountains where I now called home, I was left once again pondering Loewen’s book:

“Even if no Native remained among us, however, it would still be important for us to understand the alternatives foregone, to remember the wars, and to learn the unvarnished truths about white-Indian relations.  Indian history is the antidote to the pious ethnocentrism of American exceptionalism, the notion that European Americans are God’s chosen people.  Indian history reveals that the United States and its predecessor British colonies have wrought great harm in the world.  We must not forget this – not to wallow in our wrongdoing, but to understand and to learn, that we might not wreak harm again.”

In Loving Memory of Elie Wiesel

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Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends.

All I Ever Wanted

A Conversation with Ivan Denis

I drove to Tucson thinking something about roots and driving into the past.  One of the things that I truly do love about this travel journalism gig, is that I really do embrace the Muse on my motorcycle rides.  I open Ghost up on the highway, and the Indian Thunderstroke 911 engine hums itself straight into my core like a tuning fork.  It is here that I start to dream, waiting for a song on Ghost Rider Radio to spark a thought and show me the way.  It is cool to approach a deadline with that kind of openness: it feels pure, it feels raw – less contrived.

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Shinedown comes on, and an idea starts to form.  Roots.  Dreams.  Expectations: those great and those small.  Progress.  Setbacks.  All I ever wanted… Indeed.  This thought starts to form about the complexities of life, the continual stream of have-tos screaming out for attention, and the dizzying barrage of gadgets that are supposed to make it all more manageable…. for a small fee.  If I Ever Lose My Faith by Sting comes to mind every time this line of thinking crosses my way, “I never saw no miracle of science that didn’t go from a blessing to a curse.”

 

There seems to be this pervasive need in our society now to get back to something old, there is this built in throwback nostalgia in everything: from music, the resurgence of vinyl, entertainment, to fashion.  However, it is hard to pin point whether that phenomena is simply the current hip trend, or if it is indicative of something deeper.  Perhaps – as our cultures and interconnected worlds spin faster and faster and more chaotically out of the scope of our control – it is simply a relief to imagine a more simple time.

In staying with that spirit of simplicity: an honest craft, an artful telling, and a quality product – it made sense to me to cap my trip with another artist who, through the crucible of trial and error, finds himself much more on the side of living each day to do what he loves doing, rather than stressing about the gains.  Ivan Denis brings the soulful, James Taylor-esque side to country music, and with vocals that are sometimes a bit Garth and others a bit George, he covers a four-octave scale.  Finding a studio that agreed with embracing the imperfections of that instrument, however, proved an entirely different matter.  Simplicity, it seems, is only interesting as long as it is selling something.

I was born in Tucson, Arizona.  Some of my fondest memories of youth are riding the “Oregon Trail” through the cholla and the mesquite.  My grandfather used to live at the top of Golder Ranch road, when Catalina felt much more like a distant village far outside of Tucson instead of a bubbling mainstreet suburb.  He would saddle “Duce” up two or three times a day for a beloved little boy who came to visit on the weekends, and we would ride that buckskin horse like he was a carnival pony.  He never seemed to mind.

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Norman “Papa” Clark, my grandfather, was a Captain with the Tucson Fire Department, and after long hours: teaching rappelling, prying dead ladies out of bathtubs, and cutting bodies from the twisted remains of man’s arrogance… to say nothing of fighting fires in the Arizona desert – he needed to unplug.  He would come home to the Catalina Mountains, saddle Duce, and disappear into the jagged ridges with a bedroll and a .22 pistol loaded with snake-shot for rattlers.

There was something about the freedom those rides provided.  The way that the stresses and tragedies of the world would recede and eventually fade, to the quiet, the rhythm of the horse’s hooves against earth, and the whispers of the wind.  There was a serentiny that was only achievable there, in those mountains, on that steed, with that solitude.

Not everybody understands… the simplicity of it… the purity of it… the necessity of it…

In many ways, you can say that what I do as a motorcyclist is the same thing… and as much as I am instantly going to regret this… I am not ashamed to say that when Wanted Dead or Alive blares into my helmet, yeah… well, you get it…. Bikers know that feeling.

 

“On the steel horse I ride” – indeed.  So I mounted up, and headed south, looking to reconnect to my past, drive back into time, meditate on expectations and disappointment  and perspective, and then cap the trip off seeing Ivan Denis perform an intimate show at The Views… looking at the Catalina Mountains….. reminiscing.

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I love Tucson, well, most specifically North Tucson.  I love the Catalina Mountains.  I love Mount Lemmon.  The drive south from Apache Junction is fast, and scenic.  The first leg has one flying below the shadow of the Superstitions, and then out past the prison in Florence.  After that, the almost imperceptible, gentle incline that leads to the high desert vegetation and cacti that sets Arizona’s City of the South apart from the Valley of the Sun.  When the Catalina range starts coming into view, and Pusch ridge can be seen cutting into the sky, I always feel like I am headed home.

On this particular trip, and on many others through the years, when I allow my mind to drift into the past… I find myself wondering where the line is between the way we were raised to be and the person that we become when left to our own devices: nature vs. nurture.  Which side of that yin and yang effects us more deeply?  So much of our lives are simply reactionary; as we search for coping mechanisms to deal with the constancy of life’s challenges.

I find the introspective analysis of who we are as people, interesting. What motivates us?  What scares us?  Where does that fear come from?  On one hand the responsibility of molding a young mind is almost too intimidating to even attempt.  If every mistake leaves scars, and everybody makes mistakes, its a wonder any of us have turned out alright or want to be parents at all.  Therefore, there must also be a powerful argument made for our human ability to rationalize and reason and will ourselves to a different reality.

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So, on this particular journey as I drove past my old elementary school, and old houses, I pondered Dickens ‘chain of iron or flowers that began on one fateful day and led me to this current juncture.  Part of that journey into memory was spending an evening with good friends, vising old students over coffee, and heading to see a guy I sent to school with… who had also become an artist.  When we reconnected, I found myself struggling to remember exactly where Ivan fit into the jigsaw of my past, “Now you ran around with the Kelly boys right, and maybe Jared Leslie?” so he gently reminded me.

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“I grew up in Redington. Jack Kelly was a neighbor down the road, so yes I know the Kelly clan and yes Jared Leslie: he lived just up the hill from me for a while.  I remember all of you guys around the D & D table during lunches.You were usually DM {Dungeons & Dragons and Dungeon Master folks, if your level of Geek is just not up to par.} I hung out more than I played. I floated between there and the art room. I think most of the people I hung out with were sort of misfits who insisted on doing there own thing.”

Sometimes  it it funny how memories fade like photographs left on the dash under the sun, bu somebody mentions something, and BAM! it triggers a wave of those scenes to snap sharply back into focus.  Many a lunch hour was spent hanging out with cool teachers (teachers who understood D&D kids might need a place to hide more likely) and playing Dungeon & Dragons with the other freaks and geeks.  So we played out legendary tales, and we became legendary heroes in our own minds.  Largely, though, in the end, we were just bullied and misunderstood.

Huh…  Another misfit doing well… Imagine that.

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At some point, I don’t remember when, I got this idea that life just kind of happened to you.  All a person needed to do was get good grades, do well in school, and prepare themselves for what he or she wanted to be and BOOM! it would happen.  I waited for it.  I tried to make safe, calculated decisions, in everything from career to love to family.  It can be easy to try to blame all of our lives on our parents, or on our situations, and it would be naive of me to say that I was not affected by my history.  I lived a life of supposed to, and was never the kid to really risk getting in trouble or upsetting the status quo.  I tried to hang low and be invisible, but life just kept spiraling completely out of my control.  But the question of how much of that lack of self-confidence, that amount of fear, and uncertainty was built in from environmental situations or was simply part of my nature and character is the very essence of the conversation.

Once again, great artists, great minds…. similar journeys.  Stephen had been trying to tell me about it for years… but some… just wait….

STEPHEN ASHBROOK

 

It wasn’t until years later, when I wrote the line, “Nothing of value is created in safety” in Spirits of Jerome, that I started to understand.  And it still took me over a year to pull the trigger.  To finally embrace the fear of failure… and jump.

Ivan took a different path.

“I dropped out of high school because It sucked. I don’t have a better answer.  I’ve made my choices and hedged my bets. I’m not the least embarrassed by it. I think we all have done exactly that. We do pretty amazing things, sometimes we fuck everything up. It’s wonderful, but it’s messy. When the day’s over, and the lights go out, you have to swallow it all before you go to sleep. Sometimes I sleep, sometimes I don’t. That’s where I find my songs.”

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When we journey into the past, driving through the curves of memory and negotiating the obstacles of regret and sorrow, it is easy to think of things as a torrential force of distractions.  It is like everything in our lives is hellbent on keeping us from our chosen goals, and it isn’t until we realize that it was the constant distractions that defined our lives…. not the best laid plans.

It has been awesome, while riding this journalistic whirlwind, to see that there is a reality that doesn’t come across in the reality shows.  We seem to live in this world of immediacy and flash fame, where YouTube, trending topics, and the ability to go viral drive the egocentric idea that we are doing things, eating things, or seeing things that the entirety of the rest of the world must also want to see.

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See what I mean? If you think it is just the young kids… think again

The problem…. it is stressful.  But we are not actively creating a society of people who willingly unplug, who willingly step back, or who willingly part from their cell phones.  Conversely, we are creating a society of people who have no ability to take responsibility for their own decisions and simply wave the status update of validation and empowerment and call themselves justified.  All inaction and inanity can be justified this way.

We are creating generations of children who live in virtual reality, dream larger than life, and see themselves as the stars of their own dramas – and they have every real expectation that that story ought to be televised.  Why not?  Everything I do is a headline.  Facebook and status updates have upset the value of eyes.  The proof of it is everywhere you look…. Hint: counting the people not looking at their own screens is easier.

Social Media Has Created a Generation of Narcissists

Narcissism and Social Networking

Narcissism and Self Promotion

But when we dig into the real, peel back the layers of Arizona and open our eyes to something outside of that narcissistic blue spectrum of our digital worlds, we see that somewhere along the line – we completely missed the point.  There are real people, real writers, real singers, real musicians, real poets, real filmmakers all around us, filling the world with beauty and original creative thoughts and vision.  But it is happening beyond the digital realm, it is happening in the really real world with really real people.

When you dare to put down the Selfie-Stick, you see the real reality of it.  Everybody is carving out their spaces.  Everyone is hedging their bets.  Everyone is dancing the tango between fear and success.  Everybody wants to rule the world, and nobody really knows how in a world changing faster than it has ever done before.

 

I find myself wondering what causes people to build these patterns.  Some kids seem confident right off the bat, strong and competitive: thriving for that last second shot, or that final at-bat to win the game.  Where does that comes from?  Is it real, or is a charade that they cloak themselves in – like armor?

“For a long time you didn’t need to look close to see me shaking in my boots. I still get rattled pretty easy. If I ever do my thing in front of people without being nervous It might be time to hang it up.” 

What happens in our lives to make us DOERS, people confident enough to be willing and able to take the risks that will either make them or destroy their dreams in the attempt?  Is it the way we were brought up, loved, nurtured, filled with self-confidence?  Or is it in the DNA and the biology that screams out that some people just have completely different skill sets?

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I would never in a million years have had the guts to drop out of high school.  I hardly had the nerve to ask my dad if I could go to the church dances on the weekend.  Some kids are scared of their own shadow, timid and reserved: fearing with everything they know that moment when they are called on.  Where does that start?  Can it be controlled, channeled, changed, or is it a genetic part of our character: a code that is programmed and on line?

So what happens to a generation of people who never had to be misfits, at least not in the same way.  To be a misfit, you have to fear, you have to know that what you are doing or your way of being is simply not the social norm and will not be popular.  You accept that, and in many ways thrive on it.

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Currently, that is not the general premise.  The general consensus now is that any person can be exactly any way at all they want to be, and if you are not accepted – that is the observer’s problem.  In ideology, this degree of individuality and acceptance seems ideal, Utopian even: a concept of the way things ought to be – except that it’s not.  Conformity is required in the job world.  Not being what people expect will end up on your yearly review.  And perception is the only reality, and not playing the game could lose you your career.

This status quo, this prioritized concern with the show of things – rather than the true of things – and the villianization of those who can’t get with the program… has invaded almost every aspect of our lives.  It is obvious in social norms, and in the work place.  It is obvious in the way we talk to the public, and then flip each other off in parking lots and freeways.  We are not building a kinder, better, more understanding world… we are building the puppet show of one.

 

This is nowhere more obvious than in current popular music.

“I guess in most of my writing I tend to blend metaphor with the literal. I believe in my audience and I want them to find their own way in my song. The majority of Pop Country seems to simplify and spoon feed the audience. Wash, rinse, repeat. They tend to celebrate ignorance.In tune, and in time of course.  Point is…I try to write substantial lyrics that move me. Then I allow the audience to hear what they do.”

Ivan Denis is going into the studio this month to record his first full length album.  His search for which studio he would eventually choose, led to an interesting segway in our dialog.

“Every single place that I went said the exact same thing: ‘oh man, no worries, it’ll be great, we will auto-tune the imperfections and set everything up on a beat count’.  Nobody seemed to understand that I wanted the imperfections.  I wanted the live takes.  I wanted quality musicians having a quality, genuine, musical dialog.  Music performed by musicians is a conversation.  All this modern recording bullshit kills the conversation.”

Look for the album by Ivan Denis this Fall recorded at Landmark Sound Recorders.  ( Linda Ronstadt’s people know what’s legit!)

I guess what I am trying to say, and what I drove to Tucson thinking about, was something happened in my life to turn that switch.  Something happened to make me willing to throw everything into living.  Finally enough years of careful planning, and ultimate failure of those plans, had shown that planning is not living.  Doing is.

 

I spent so many years… too many years simply waiting for greatness.  I just figured, in my infinite naivete, well, I’m brilliant… I just have to wait for people to realize it and find me.  But – why would they?  How would they?  And all of that planning, all of that dreaming, led to decades of living a life that was only defined by what might happen in the future… and doing close to nothing to achieve it.

“When you get stuck that’s when you reach. It’s when you rise. You can’t just learn to be okay with being stuck. It’s like the love song, at least we have each other…no, no you don’t. You have stuck, and stuck ruins lives. Any body who’s ever really been depressed can tell you that’s true.”

No wonder so many of us – living our daily routines – feel like our lives are on endless repeat.

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Ivan Denis told me the story of one of his songs, look for it on the upcoming release, and I once again, through conversation, art, and mutual creative respect, life became just a bit more focused.

“In Gasoline I sing about a relationship gone bust. The guy screams with regret.  He had the girl of his dreams.  She was real and tangible; only to find that his dreams betrayed him. What he thought was so right, wasn’t. There is no reasoning or reckoning. It was perfect, and perfect didn’t work. That is just how life can be. The things we need, what we want, what we treasure…The whole damn thing is fluid. We change as change changes and we try like hell to hold on!”

 

In a world like ours, it can take an inordinate amount of self control to just …. simply…. stop.  Look around.  Breathe.  Take it all in.  Watch birds soar, without the need to go Live on Facebook.  In a world of chaos, machinations within machinations, where nothing we want to think we have security in is really secure… it can be easy to try to lose oneself on the digital webs.  One can simply fade into the background of noise and competing headlines, and there is nothing there to really tell you that you are not as supremely special as you think you are.

Or.

You can turn the phone off.  Put down the camera.  Leave the Google Glass at home next to your Star Trek Chess Set where it belongs.  Demand purity and honesty in your music, and revel in the beauty that comes from unplanned things.  You can find something cool happening in your neck of the woods, LIVE, with other breathing, living human beings…. and just for a while… try to reconnect to a simpler time.

WWW.IVANDENIS.COM

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Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends.

A Quarter Century: A Peacemaker

A Retrospective Review of Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers’ New Album: Native Heart

I have not been to Circus Mexicus since I had to have a passport to get there.  The last time that I saw Roger Clyne work his southwestern, poetic magic on a euphoric crowd of peacemakers he was rocking my all-time favorite album of his, Sonoran Hope and Madness (affectionately known as SHAM), at the Las Vegas House of Blues a couple of years ago.  I have an old patch that you don’t see often sewn over my heart on my motorcycle vest.  I wear a decades old silver glyph.  I pay attention to almost every single thing the Arizona icon does, but I very rarely go see him play in Arizona or Mexico.

Once in an awesome conversation with Ed Masely, music writer for the Arizona Republic, I asked, “Ed, what happened?  I leave for a decade, now I’m back and it is like everything in the world changed when it comes to Roger Clyne.  The shows…. well, they are just not the same.” And Ed, always pragmatic, always sincere said, “Roger is a great guy.  It is perhaps true that RCPM fans are not as good at being drunk as Refreshments fans.”  As always… well said Ed.  Bottom line… I find, as a nostalgic fan, that seeing RCPM like a new fan, in a new city, in a small bar… is the way to find a time machine back to The Electric Ballroom.

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I remember playing pool with a big-eyed, big-hearted, big-dreamin, gangly kid named Roger after his gigs at an old bar called The Electric Ballroom.  I doubt he remembers me… my life led me down a very different road, and I lost the pulse of Phoenix for about a decade.  When I returned, many things had changed, but Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers were still here, still making headlines, still making an amazingly positive difference in the world.  Some things my friends, in this world of shit and nails, still give me faith.

Roger Clyne is one of those ‘things’.

I have made a big deal to tell you all, “I don’t do music interviews!  I have conversations about topics I am interested in, and I use my feature artist almost like a source.”  Well, if there is an album that makes me want to venture into a ‘review’ of sorts, it is another new album from Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers.  Very few things in my life, including children, wives, and friends… have been more of a consistent companion to me over a span of a quarter of a century – than the strummin’ southwestern poet who is my mentor and doesn’t even know it.

So, let’s get into it!  First, the cover.  I love covers: covers and titles.  They are like this artistically, poetic, beautiful way to push massive meanings with so very few words.  When it comes to Roger Clyne covers, be they Refreshments or RCPM…. well, let’s just have a looksy shall we:

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When you look at all of them, in retrospect, they are not overwhelmingly interesting.  In fact, using my previous criterion on why I like titles, my three favorite covers are The Independent, SHAM, and Native Heart.  These three album covers, actually pack quite a bit of a punch, when it comes to making a statement.  I am not sure if SHAM would be allowed in today’s America, honestly.  Time has gone on, and as it has done so the degree of political correctness has moved from something that is a matter of respect to something that is a matter of force.  When it comes to the message of the cover, I actually think that Native Heart is saying something very similar.  The font of Native Heart obviously evokes an immediate connection to Native American style, or stereotypical stylization, but other than that, the theme of the cover becomes very quickly all about being an Arizonan.  The colors very much mimic the Arizona flag, and the mountain range evokes the skyline around Phoenix, regardless of what direction you look.  When it comes to the heart, all you have to do is know a little bit about Roger Clyne… or be a D-Backs fan, and that part is obvious.

As the iTunes blue circle was spinning, and I was anxiously awaiting my purchased digital version of the album to download, I was looking at the song lengths.  Native Heart is a ten track album that is just over 32 minutes long.  The first impression was negative.  I am a prog rock guy.  My favorite band in the universe is Rush.  An album of three minute rock songs does not immediately scream ‘interesting’ to me, but again, I have been a fan of Roger’s writing for a very long time.  One thing that is true of him, and really always has been, is that he manages to write very crunchy vocals that are not hard to chew on.  Lyrically, the man manages to say an awful lot of words in three minutes… perhaps he used to be a policy debater?

Flowerin’

Perhaps before I go any further, I should tell you, dear reader, that I am a lyric man first. Words, words, words!  A song may not jump out at me at first musically, but if the poetry of the lyrics get me… I can often be swayed.  Such was the case with Flowerin’.  The overtly happy beat, brassy horns, and uplifting tempo are not musically what gets my blood rushing.  The song is very south of the border influenced pop, at least on a first listen, but then, as is very often the case with Roger Clyne, his lyrics got me:

“I ain’t worried about what Jesus may be thinking of my soul / I’m barefoot on a silver string my faith is Rock n Roll / Some say our Paths may intersect Some say He walks beside me / Though I appreciate that kindly sir / Still I miss David Bowie”

Suddenly the song takes on this multifaceted meaning.  It is immediately 2017 with the nod to the loss of David Bowie, and this acknowledgement also immediately tells us as listeners – both old and new, that this one musical icon… mattered to Mr. Clyne.  Deeply.  The song simultaneously, however, becomes an anthem to the flowering spirit of the of the individual, who doesn’t have to rely on God to find ways to appreciate and love the world.

I was also very pleasantly amused with the fact that when Roger delivers, “I hear that people fill the darkness up with silly love songs….”, the scene of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor singing the Elephant Medley in Moulin Rouge came to mind.  Whether this was an intentional nod, or just my crazily, over-active imagination – that nod to art, Elton John, and Bowie all in one song… won me over.

Every Kind of Lucky

Counterclockwise.  The song jumped to mind in terms of not only the songs place on the record, but also in theme.  It is a nostalgic throw back rock song, that doesn’t necessarily push the limits of what we know RCPM can do musically.  The song plays with the juxtapositions of rolling the dice and pushing the limits in just about anyway to live the life of rock n roll and teenage freedom, and still managing to grow up into a…. ahem…. eternal forty-nine years young successful entrepreneur, father, family man  who also happens to make a damn fine tequila.

Sunday Driving

The first slower song of the record starts off with a mellow beat and Dalton brilliantly and cleanly hitting the notes of the cords.  Somehow as the song evolved, it evoked visions of the Gin Blossoms Hey Jealousy.  Not because of sound, or similarity at all, but because it almost seemed like the sequel to the legendary Tempe anthem.  Fast cars, reckless abandon, running from the police: but Sunday Driving takes us on a more adult drive, a slower drive, a perfect drive, a drive where the jealousy has stopped and the selfies prove that it would be unnecessary anyway.

“I can’t tell the difference between leaving and arriving when you’re next to me – beautiful / We’re always Sunday driving”

 

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Arizona Night

Quite possibly, at least on first impressions, my favorite song on the Native Heart.  Roger belts out the vocals, with feeling and clarity, if perhaps with a bit more ease on his vocal chords.  Roger learned a long time ago that Mile High and Risin’… hurts.

“Just like the stars blaze above the Superstitions / These crazy hearts are burning with the same ignition / Hear those guitars buzzing in the same transmission? / Just like the stars infinite elevation / These native hearts recognize no reservation”

Arizona Night is a proclamation of love to the state of Arizona and those of us native Sons & Daughters that call her home.

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Barons to Break

Although a solid rock song, with the first really solid and prolonged guitar solo from Dalton, the song never rises above an anthem to rebellion and recklessness.  “Badges?  We don’t need no stinking badges! tonight we got barons to break.”  I can see this song being a fun dance and sing along when played live, but again, in terms of pushing the limits of where I like to see Roger go, this song doesn’t.

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Shadyside

I have never been to Banditos: Roger Clyne’s bar south of the border.  But I can imagine him, wearing his signature sombrero, serving up cervesas and shots of Mexican Moonshine, almost like a nostalgic old style musical, where the bartender suddenly bursts into song, and he is singing this song from behind the bar.

“Most of the freaks who call me bro are some of the the finest folks I know / They take in my orphan heart / they show me their wicked ways / Come on and sit a spell / tell a hot fool / rest your bones a while / we’re the best folks too / Here on the shady side everything is cool”

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Viva Love!

If Flowerin’ in the most immediately modern song on the record because of the direct mention of David Bowie, Viva Love! is the second.  It is, however, a much more indirect, but altogether obscure reference to… ahem…. 2017.

 

“I am not here not to do the impossible / I will quit once we have laughed in the face of death/ I do not come not to revoke the impunity which ignorance mars the ages / I will not go until hatred draws its last breath /  I am not here not to do the impossible / I do not mean not to mend every mother’s breaking heart / I did not come to bear less than more of my share / Of the weight of the world”

Roger once gave an interview for the release of Americano!, and he was discussing a song that the Peacemakers don’t play often: God Gave me a Gun.  Roger is not overtly political in his music, but this track was penned after watching the events of 9/11 on Mexican, not American, news.  He mentions in the interview that the perspective on world events is different when seen without the lens of American media.

This song, which beautifully mixes in south of the border elements along with Dalton’s second solo of the record, which is haunting and echoes of thoughts, revelations, and regret…. a lot like this year.

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Hello Tiger

Now before you go WTF? (and before Roger says the exact same thing…??)  Did anyone find this song, with Roger dropping a heavily dripping “F” bomb, just somehow completely out of place: a whole lot Mary Jane showing up to make Peter Parker the luckiest nerd on the planet?

Now, honestly, the song grew on me, especially the first verse that is basically a mantra to an old fan hanging out with new fans and getting stepped on… a lot.  That part kinda made me smile…  a lot.

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Fun

After the oddity that is Hello Tiger, the end of the album goes out with a bit of a sarcastic ribbing of growing up, getting older, and aging into legend slinging a guitar to thirsty peacemakers in bars.  The most tongue -in-cheek song on the record, which as long time fans, we have grown to expect from the witty wordsmith of the Peacemakers, Roger sings of the fun we all have drinking, singing, living at night, arguing about politics:

“I aint going to ask you to for anything more than your heart would want to allow / I know we’re all weary from the weight of the world anyhow”

And although Native Heart never gets overtly political, by the end of the record one is left with a very profound feeling of human connection and social responsibility.  Obviously, not at all themes we are not used to seeing from the man who brings Circus Mexicus to Rocky Point.

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So May You

From which the album fades into the melancholy prayer, of So May You.  A song that sounds like the words Roger Clyne has so often said, to all of us, in crowds, even though it always sounds like he is talking to each of us.  He ends those magical nights in thanks.  He ends those magic nights in peace.  He ends those magical nights loving music and the medicine it provides.  He ends those nights like a pirate, that has taken us on a magical voyage to an amazing state, but one that we are sojourning through in uncertain times.

“So May You / Let Your Heart Out of Its Cage / So May You / Be Young Through Every Age / So May You / Know Joy and Never Rage / You Will Never Be the Same Again”

So May You, Roger.

Play on.

So May You, Peacemakers.

Keep the Greasy Side Down.

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Confronting Nietzsche, Embracing Hamlet, & The Great Cosmic Joke

A Conversation with Charles Ellsworth

There’s An Evil That Lives In The Hearts Of All Men…

…and sometimes that evil bears its head early and often.  Some people feel it.  Some people see it.  Some people breathe it.  Some people dance with it.  Some people rage against it.  Some people sink beneath it.  Some people die of it.  Some people rise above it.

It doesn’t take much to look around the world and see that things are in dire straits. It is a haunting conundrum, when we look at our idols as having everything: money, fame, power, etc, and then all of a sudden they are found in a closet, or in a bathroom, or in some other quietly sad and lonely place.  We, the left behind mass of fandom, are confused, scratching our heads, and wondering, why those who burn the brightest seem to hide the most darkness. Whether it is The Psychiatric Times or USAToday talking about the association between mental disorders and genius, or various blog articles discussing the link the between high intelligence and depression, long absent conversations about the nature of suicidal tendencies are becoming commonplace.  CNN discussing the dark history of Vincent Van Gogh, PBS using Robin Williams to make the link between depression and creativity, and now with yet another loss of a 90s grunge icon with Chris Cornell – the facts are obvious and disturbing.

This is what has become known as The Curse of the Poet and was an issue that was heavily on my mind during my Conversation With D L Marble as well.

YOU CANNOT BE REPLACED…. if you need help, it is just a click away.

 

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You can reference that article as it ended with this concept.  It provides a sense of context as I went into my conversation with Charles Ellsworth.

“Before we go any further, click this link to go to CharlesEllsworthMusic.Com and BUY THE NEW ALBUM, Cesarea, RIGHT NOW.  It is an absolutely phenomenal recording, produced right here in Arizona at Flying Blanket Records.  This is hands down one of the best uses of ten bucks going right now.  Hit the link and GET IT DONE !”

The reason that this darkness that lies within each of us matters is that it is a commonplace poetic emotion, but certainly not commonplace to talk about.  I have a history with this artist that no other interviewer can claim:  I was his high school English teacher.  Twice.  Charles was dealing with some fairly traumatic frustrations in terms of his living situation, and while I was reeling with the suicides of not only my step-father of twenty years, but also the suicide of a well-liked student.  On top of that, divorce raised its monstrous visage, and I lost my son to visitations and child support payments.  I hoped this unique proximity would also grant a level of candor not usually possible in a rock-n-roll music interview.

AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION…. just reach out

Even years later, I have quite a bond with that first generation of students – the ones that were part of the first half of my career.  (I taught for seven years.)  Many of them are still my friends: a couple of them have developed into very close ones.  I think an awful lot of the reason they have stayed in contact, and I with them, has to do with simply being human, studying literature and poetry, and feeling.  To teach English well, you have to show that this stuff if real, that it has true, raw, emotions fueling it.  It was a very hard time to be an English teacher.  We all know personal stuff is supposed to stay home, and there is supposed be a line between the public self and the world of our own personal Hell.  That however…. is not at all always possible.  Sometimes things get so dark, that that cloud effects everything you do.

With No Recollection Of The Kid I Once Was…..

Charles was my student for Sophomore Honors and Junior College Prep English.  I knew him when he got his driver’s license, and I taught him about The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby.  I made sure he understood all of the really, racist, dirty jokes Iago tells in Othello Act I.  I read his personal narrative essay.  I read his poetry.  And although I cannot claim to know everything, or even the beginnings of everything, about his life, I knew enough about this kid that when I saw him out in the real world, making music, and achieving his dreams – I was inspired.

 

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Charles was spending a lazy Sunday off from from his tour promoting the release of this third album, Cesarea, driving from Seattle to Portland.  He had seen his good friend Tyler, (also a former student), had a couple days to rest, and he had done his laundry.  Now, he was driving, which meant he had time to be nailed down and talk to his old English teacher, turned explorer, blogger: Ghost Writer.  We were talking about this link between depression, sadness, tragedy, and the powerful artistic expression that often comes with it.

“It’s a chicken and the egg kind of thing,” Charles was saying, “What came first: the art or the depression?  It came from a very early age, I think I was in fifth or sixth grade the first time I really contemplated the reality of suicide.  Perhaps it was all of the severe family drama, perhaps it was puberty, but it was definitely sobering.  But it was also at about this time that I discovered Led Zeppelin and wanting to learn how to play like Jimmy Page.”

“It is an awkward time, an overwhelming time, as a teenager you are uncomfortable in your own skin, and you are being shepherded through this joke of an education system which is all about conforming and as far away as possible from actually thinking, and here you are, as a kid, and you notice it!  You are left with a feeling of what is the point.”

SUICIDE AWARENESS VOICES OF EDUCATION…. know that there is always tomorrow

We spent some time talking about the people in the world that didn’t want to notice it.  I told him about a time, probably about the same time he was in high school actually, that I was talking to one of my younger sisters about what I was teaching.  Out of nowhere she told me, ‘Ryan, I would not like your classes.’  I was a bit shocked, I thought I was a pretty cool teacher after all.  ‘You would make me think too much.’  I was even more shocked then, and in some ways I still am.  I cannot imagine being someone who doesn’t want to see the man behind the curtain.  But to some, that wizard gives their lives stability… even if it is a facade.  Seeing this facade, and dissecting it, is the beauty of the artist, but that gift comes with a cost.

“It was 9/11.  My whole world was in upheaval before it even had a chance to develop a real point of view, and we have been at war ever since.  I am working on this song that says something like, ‘Heroes I’ve known… we’ve been in war, since I was thirteen years old’, and again, it is times like those, confronted with the reality of it… that you ask, what is the fucking point.”

One of my favorite movies from my younger years was Pump up the Volume, and although it was a different time, the words still resonate.  Being a teenager sucks, but that is the point.  Getting through it is the point.

And From A Seed A City Grew Into A Concrete Tomb With No Regard For You…

“So, for you, after everything, all the pain, all the loss, all the tragedy, how do we find the beauty”, I asked him.  At the time I wasn’t thinking about American Beauty, but now, as I sit and type up the words, I am seeing the theme of that floating feather and the beauty of that completely messed up, ordinary life.  I was also trying to figure out whether or not I could claim the inspiration from this line in the song because I am the guy who taught Charles, The Open Boat by Stephen Crane.

“Forced to look at the world focusing only on its flaws, one tends to embrace a glass-half-empty sort of approach.  It scrutinizes all of this existence; it breaks it down into its basic fundamentals.  And what we are left with, is that it is all meaningless.  It is dark, and ridiculous, and infinitely pointless.

SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE…. someone will always listen

But it is also funny.  The answer is to not take anything too seriously – like that boat some bastard pays three or four hundred bucks a month for that he might use eight or ten times a year… if he’s lucky.  But now he’s a slave to that boat.  That boat owns his whole damn life.”

“The bottom line is that life is a grand and cosmic joke; if you are not laughing it is the definition of cruel.”

It starts to seem infinitely ironic, and infinitely sad, but the point that he was making was clear.  It was one that I have battled within myself as a critically thinking, artistic individual for years.  When I taught Hamlet, I had an entire lecture day dedicated to discussing the Poet’s Curse, and I introduced it by talking about Machiavelli.

“A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good.”

If you are an idealist, you want the world to be what it ought to be, what it should be, what it could be – but never will be.  This fuels a deep sense of grief (i.e. depression) about the state of the world and the human beings in it.  It creates this Nietzschean universe, where the artist is forced to confront the reality of looking into the Abyss for too long.

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you. ― Friedrich Nietzsche”

“For me, there are basically two approaches,” Charles continued. “When you live this focused life that scrutinizes every flaw, you look at the world in a constant series of should be’s.  It is depressing as Hell, but when examined closely, as a whole, there has to be a way to find some sort of beauty in the chaos.  So you are left with simple questions, questions that force a person to examine, evaluate, and value the now.  I take inspiration in the now.”

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Will You Look Back Regretting Your Past And Find This Is Where You Lost Your Stride…

“To me it becomes a matter of impression.  Impression in the now.  If people only see me this one time, and the world is this huge cosmic joke, there is no reason not to smile.”

A few weeks ago, I tuned-in to a Utah Radio Station out of Salt Lake City that was interviewing Charles, and he said that in this album he had tried to find more happiness, and perhaps not take himself too seriously.  I followed up with that dialog, and asked for him to clarify that answer in relation to our conversation.

“Depending on the interview, you aren’t always as free as you might be elsewhere.”  We kind of laughed, as he knew that both of us also shared a similar religious history.  “But the answer is that I tried to show a series of juxtapositions.”  He backed up, thinking perhaps of a better angle to address the question.

“Look, I write sad bastard love songs, I know that, but I don’t want them to sound like sad bastard love songs.  Take Dyre Straitz for instance, it is an upbeat, happy sounding song, but it is about infidelity.  My heart got ripped out man, but I didn’t want the song to sound like it.  It was my spin on showing the Cosmic Joke of it all.”

“It’s like all this awful stuff that is going on right now.”  Charles took a deep breath, like he was trying to fight off a rant, before just succumbing to it, and allowing it to flourish and breathe.  “It’s like when my friends ask me what I feel about Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter…”

And the debate coach in me rejoiced, because Charles was getting ready to take me down the rabbit hole, and I was more than ready for the ride!

Because The Devil’s Just A Man Like Any Other Guy He’s Working 9 – 5 Just To Save A Dime…

“When Black Lives Matter took off, it was trying to bring a sense of acute awareness to an issue.  Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter: these are responses; they offer nothing of substance in themselves.  So all those statements do is detract from the original intent, like a huge middle finger to the substance of the real movement.

“But it is possible to believe that, and still have a deep respect and care for law enforcement.  It seems ridiculous to me that a person cannot have a deep care about the lives and well being of the men and women in uniform, but still expect them to be held responsible in full for their actions and lack of judgment.

“It doesn’t seem like these ideas are mutually exclusive.  It doesn’t seem like there is anything other than policy and politics keeping people divided, so it doesn’t make any sense that more people are not furious over Philandro Castile.  It doesn’t make any sense why the NRA is remaining silent.”

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“Didn’t the Boston Massacre act as one of the major instigators leading towards the Revolution?”  It actually surprised me when he stopped his passionate discussion of our current American Racial Crisis, to ask me a question.

“Yeah, it was certainly one of the factors.”

“And it only killed like five people!  Now that happens daily, weekly, monthly, all the damn time, and people just turn the page or flip the channel.  Why have we done absolutely nothing but watch it all escalate?  A person can ask these questions.  A person can scream out raging about why people are so complacent, and that same person can still respect the hell out of police officers.”

It is that infinite cruelty in the world that will either drive a person crazy with its callous apathy, or force them to see the beautiful, chaotic Cosmic Joke of it all.  I was starting to understand where he was going with the example, and it made sense.  It was this underlying layering of conflicting ideas, the facade of happiness and an upbeat tempo to disguise the workings of a critical mind, that Charles was referring to when he told the interviewer in Utah that he was exploring his happier side.

Sad Bastard Songs…. that don’t sound like Sad Bastard Songs… Indeed.

I’m Not Restless, I’m Just Weary And A Little Scared Of What’s To Come…

“I’m sure you’ve read this, but I just recently did, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?”

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My heart skipped a few beats.  A teacher knows, and it is that moment that a former student looks at you and says something completely unsolicited that could just as easily have come out of your soul that you swell with a pride that is very hard to describe.  “Of course!  I love that book,” I replied.  BUY IT on AMAZON HERE.  You will not regret it.

“I think in the end, with all of the ugliness, and all of the awful, tragic, horrible things that come at us… the answer to everything just becomes Simplicity and Quality, and the Beauty that comes from those things.  It becomes a way of life, like I find myself cleaning out my van on tour, and it makes me feel a sense of peace.”

“Even in a world where police officers walk free for killing black men who have done nothing?” I asked.

“Yes, it gives us this vision of how it should be.  How it could be in life, in society, in the everyday mechanics of quality.  It seems like a good place to start.”

“So, in light of all of this philosophy, all of this dichotomy and irony, I have one more question for you.”  Then talking, now writing, every time… looking into the Abyss of memory is just as black.  I took a breath before continuing on.  “Our lives have been rough, I know enough about yours to know it was not easy, and mine has certainly in many ways just felt like one tragic disaster after another.  How do we move past these things, but still look at these things, be affected by these things, write about these things, but not allow ourselves to be defined by these things?”

There was a pause on the phone, just long enough to make me wonder if we had lost service, but then Charles answered.  “I’m still figuring that out.”

“I’m glad that I had music,” he said, again second guessing his first series of thought in a response and choosing to change gears.

“Back in the young years, and the shit, and the sadness, and the trying to come to terms with why anything mattered at all…. music mattered. Music gave me a way to interpret those conflicting feelings, and try to deal with them and think about them, in a way that was outside of myself.”

Once again, I was reminded of another conversation with another wonderful artist, when I asked Jordan White of Jane ‘n the Jungle if there was a correlation between her best writing and her feelings of sadness.  Once, years ago, my step-mother Sue asked me why it seemed that I wrote my best work when I was the most sad.  I reiterated that question to Jordan in my very first article, (read it HERE).

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In short she talked about how when people are happy, they do not necessarily have a set of deficiencies: at least not any that are making them unhappy.  So in essence, they don’t need anything.  When people are insecure, however: lost, depressed, lonely – these are the times they need the most from something outside of themselves.  People look for validation.  Writers look to write.  Artists seek to create.  That is the process…. using that creative curse to be able to process the painfully cruel and beautiful world that we see.

“My biological father went to prison when I was ten years old.”  Charles said it matter-of-factly: not with shame or malice.  “Once that happened, no matter what… I was the kid with a Dad in prison.  Was I going to be like him?  What makes me different?  And I realized that we start to create our own prisons.  I guess that, that and music, are the things that first let me start trying to claw back from that place.”

If people allow themselves to be defined by the horrors of their pasts – how can they ever escape that darkness?  Am I who I am because of divorce and being raised in split homes?  Am I who I am because my step-dad shot himself?  Am I who I am because some mistakes never go away, and I lost my career? Am I who I am because between students, and close friends, I have seen more self-slaughter than most?  Am I who I am because I am over 120,000 dollars in debt for a career that I cannot use?  Am I who I am because President W. Bush changed the bankruptcy laws?  Am I who I am because my younger brother committed a homicide… in January?

“How does one begin to put all of these tragedies into perspective, and think about them, juxtapose them with literature, write about them, and never be able to escape them… and not finding themselves questioning their own life…. like Hamlet…. To Be or Not To Be?”

“We start to realize that everything in our lives is about Intent, Goals, and Voluntarily Changing,” Charles continued after a moment of shock after I relayed the story of what happened with my younger brother to him.  “You are not your brother, even though you have experienced rage, just like I am not my Father, even though I fuck up all of the time.  There is no predetermined Fate that controls us and makes us who we become.  At some point…. we have to take responsibility for our own existence.”

Again, I knew that he was right, as I had done the same thing.  In January, it just seemed that life literally was just going to be one colossal tragedy after another until life just …. ended.  Although my work was going well, it wasn’t teaching and it was never going to be.  I had tried to build up interest in pursuing management, but the writing was on the wall there too.  I don’t play the corporate game very well, death was absolutely everywhere, and now my brother was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.  What was the freaking point?

“But”, as Charles, was saying, “once I did that, looked at the world in a way that put the responsibility of each of my days on me, and only me, I realized all good in my life, was because of me.  All meaning in my life, was because of me.  All the possibility in my life, was because of me.  Not just all the crap and all the mistakes.  I tried to capture that on this album.”

I instantly felt a connection with his motivations.  “That is exactly how I am here, right now, interviewing you for a blog article and preparing for a book release at the end of September.  Something in me broke in January.  Something in me forced a questioning and a re-evaluating of everything I thought I wanted and knew, and I realized it was either now or never.  I just literally had to Do It.  And I did!  I would never in a million years have imaged this reality six months ago as my sisters and I held each other as our world came crashing down…. again.”

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In a world that is continually pounding us, just incessantly with the negative.  In a world that forces the cathartic thought that if suicide can happen to all of these special people, than why do I, or any of us, have any cause to hope? In this world…. it is good to know that we have music…. and it is good to know that it is okay to feel.  Poetry is indeed necessary.

In so many ways it was an amazing conversation.  It was a conversation about the things in this world that really do freaking matter, and the ways that two artistic people, who have known each other for long enough to be able to talk about real shit in a very real way, have found to sift through all of the Black and find something there worth grasping, holding, and hoping for.

It was a conversation that needs to happen more often.

Charles will be playing Sunday at The Lost Leaf with some stellar friends.  You can also click the image for the Facebook Event Link.  This will be a great show, and is not one to be missed.  We hope to see you there, come up and say hello!

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Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends.

 

The Ongoing Shame of Cultural Tyranny

Ghost Adventures, on The Travel Channel, Fails At Creating Bridges

Reality, or faux-reality, shows are simply not really my idea of a good time, but I was excited to see the episode “Skinwalker Canyon” which aired on Saturday, June 17.  Not only was the show going to broach the taboo Navajo legend, but it was filmed ‘on-location’ from the Navajo Nation.  Zak Bagans, the host of Ghost Adventures, gave an interview, days before the show aired which gave me some hope that a mainstream, non-Native source would be able to deal with Native topics in a way that was sincere and respectful.  The full article is available here.  When told that Native people’s sometimes fear their stories being told by outsiders, Zak answers:

“I understand. While we were there, that is who we worked with. That is who we heard from, the Navajo people. We even got invited to a Navajo warrior ceremony by a medicine woman before we stepped foot into the canyon.  We were honored to be a part of that and I respect all Native Americans and I respect that they were here before us. I am not here to say anything against that. I support them and I look up to them.”

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Within minutes of the show starting, I knew my excitement had been misplaced.  Quickly the production adopts a Blair Witch style approach, and not long after the above mentioned “warrior ceremony” devolves into a ridiculous parody of Young Guns, I knew the show was not even going to get close to the reverence or dignity required to cover such a controversial topic.

The Fine Line of Traversing Cultural Divides

As a gringo trying to write, research, and learn about Native topics, every time Outsiders (Non-Natives / Non-Tribal Members) try to cover sensitive topics and do so badly, it makes what I am trying to do exponentially more difficult.  It is because of shows like this episode of Ghost Adventures, movies like Skinwalkers on Amazon, or novels like Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman, that the cultural necessity of a film like The Red Hogaan, by Kody Dayish, is so immediate.

Since meeting Kody while researching my own Skinwalker story, as relayed in Ashes & Ghosts, we have had several interesting conversations about the irony that brought us into working together was over an incredibly taboo and sacred topic.  The interesting thing, is that it is taboo for each of us, but for different reasons.  As I relayed at length and in great detail in A Quest of Vision, Kody went to great lengths to gain permission from the Navajo Nation to film The Red Hogaan.  He knew that he was dealing with an incredibly sacred topic, but he also knew that it was time to for the Dine’ to own their own myths, or less reverent, less careful outsiders would steal them.  Zak Bagans is the most recent in a long line of Outsiders who have chosen to try to walk the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation – and failed.

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VIEW TRAILER #2 HERE

So, what exactly is cultural appropriation?

Folks, I am a writer, and I was a long time teacher.  I would like to think that the two, at least in some ways go hand in hand, therefore, it is with Danielle S. McLaughlin, Director of Education Ermerita, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, whom I agree on the appropriate lens through which to examine the issue.  What is Appropriate and What is Cultural Appropriation takes a deep look at the concepts of teaching { i.e. relaying information for analysis and digestion} being sensitive to cultural perspectives, as Dir. McLaughlin illustrates:

“If an English teacher wants to assign his class Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” but can only discuss the book from his own non-Indigenous point of view, should he do it? Should he single-out the indigenous students in the class as spokespeople for the First Nations’ point of view? What if they don’t want to share their ideas? Is this assignment culturally sensitive or is it cultural appropriation?”

I have done this.  I have been this teacher.  I absolutely see the point, and I can see how difficult this line gets to define.  So I read just a paragraph further, and McLaughlin provides some hope:

“Our children need to learn about one another and about the world, even when the world is a difficult place. We need creative, thoughtful and kind people who are willing to take risks to teach all our children. Please don’t be afraid to engage them. They need you.”

This is what separates Outsiders like Zak Bagans and myself.  Within a day, just one Facebook site of which I am a member, Rezzy Ghost Stories, exploded with negativity over the Skinwalker Canyon episode.  “Just out to make a buck” one user said.  I would place my work firmly with Director McLaughlin.  I am a teacher.  The context of my writing is to create cultural bridges.  The context of Ghost Adventures tore them down, all over the Navajo Nation, within minutes.

 

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This is the legacy we, as Outsiders, have taught.  This is the legacy we, as Outsiders, deserve.  It is only by our actions that we can prove that our hearts lie in different places from the violent past…. but, as is true with many things, one negative lands with a much heavier blow than ten silent positives.  The fact that people still feel that they can violate these sacred legends, for the sake of a badly researched, comically ridiculous, show on cable television proves that the shame of cultural domination is still with us.

{I Don’t Konform are a Navajo metal band from the Navajo Nation.  Follow them on Facebook and on ReverbNation, and look for my feature article with the band coming this August !!!!}

The Journey Begins – The Meditation of AZ Native Research Tour 2

This concept of cultural appropriation has been on my mind, and it ought to be, as I have driven the by-ways of Arizona searching for mysteries and supernatural legends from the past.  I am a writer.  I plan on selling my books.  I am white.  I asked myself at one point, if I was making too much of the racial issue.  Kody has not mentioned it hardly at all, in fact, if race has come up, I have brought it up.  This meditation does not have easy answers, but as I set out in mid-June along the path of General Crook and the Apache Wars of South Eastern Arizona, I am plagued by a related and equally perplexing thought:

“Politicians in Washington, D.C., knew little about differences in tribal cultures, customs, and language. Politicians also ignored political differences and military alliances and tried to apply a “one-size-fits-all” strategy to deal with the “Indian problem – Martha Glauthier 2007″

It all comes down to context.  During the Apache Wars, the United States Government did not want to appreciate or appropriate; they wanted to eradicate.  But they were capable of doing so, of dehumanizing other human beings, because of a sense of power, entitlement and superiority over them.  Is not thinking of one culture’s sacred beliefs as less valid or important as your own a step, or six, down this slippery slope?  Perhaps Zak Bagans should ask himself that question – after he pulls his foot from his mouth from insinuating that a Navajo holy woman drugged him without his permission.

 

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My purpose on this tour, was to try to immerse myself in this history of conflict and tyranny, and in so doing try to come to terms with my own place as a gringo, a white boy, an Outsider… in the world of Native American story telling.  I wanted to use the visions of history, the closeness of its ghosts, and the echoes of its hostility as a way to try to discuss why these actions from long ago, still matter, and still affect people in a very real way.

Fort Verde, General Crook, and Policing the Arizona Frontier

Fort Verde was a large military operation nearly in the middle of the state.  The Army used the fort’s defensive position to protect and defend the settlers moving into the Arizona territory in the mid 1800s.  Starting here, General Crook created his route that connected this Fort Verde to Fort Apache in the White Mountains.  It should be noted:

“U.S. Army officers were given little or no training in the languages and customs of American Indians. Few had any empathy for native people whose way of life and very survival were threatened by the American’s massive migration to, and occupation of, the West – ( www.southernarizonaguide.com }”

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Arizona has more square miles of Native lands than any other state in the United States.  The map at left shows the original holdings of Arizona tribes.  Try to keep in mind: {Outsiders} – each of these places are sovereign nations; each of these tribes speak different languages; each of these tribes have differing alliances and enemies; each of these tribes have children, parents, and grandchildren, homes, and memories; each of these tribal areas no longer exists without a daily reminder that not only was the land stolen, but in many cases, all of the history and family memories as well.  It is a harrowing reality, and one that many gringos like myself don’t like to acknowledge, but failure to do so is to hide from the reality of history, and to not learn from history – as we have seen very often of late – is to be doomed to repeat it.

 

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Apache Scouts – “It Takes an Apache to Catch an Apache”

As the wars to the south with the Apaches are proving much  more frustrating than previously thought, and Apache leaders like Cochise and Geronimo are complicating United States efforts to maintain newly formed Reservations, General Crook enlists a “it takes an Apache to catch an Apache” attitude, and recruits fifty White Mountain Apache men to serve as Scouts in the United States Army.

It is decisions like these, and many others made by leaders within the United States Government, that proved a total and utter lack of cultural intelligence when dealing with vast numbers of Native peoples.  Yes, it is true, and widely accepted that General Crook was a “friend” to Natives – not because he didn’t do bad, but because he tried to do some good {especially in terms of the living conditions on the San Carlos Reservation; and the fact that The White Mountain Apache are believed to have maintained so much of their ancestral homeland within their Reservation because of their alliance with Fort Apache and General Crook}, but one analogy to modern day makes this very clear.

You have vast geography, controlled by different clans, some of whom practice separate religions, some of whom are at war, some of whom are allies.  This entire area has its own politics.  Arizona is like The Middle East if the Crusades had won.

 

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The Fort Grant & Skeleton Cave Massacres

Two tragic examples of this lack of cultural understanding in terms of tribal conflicts came in the year of 1871-72.  The Apache War was still raging to the South as Lt. Cushing was relentlessly pursuing Cochise, and two of the most heinous acts of the Apache Wars are orchestrated by rival groups of Natives allied with Outsider invaders.  In 1871, a band of Tohono O’odham, and settlers from Tucson, marched up Aravaipa canyon and slaughtered hundreds of Aravaipa Apache.  The forced treaty at the end of this conflict directly led to the creation of San Carlos Reservation.  Then, in 1872, at the height of the Yavapai Wars {not to be confused with the Apache Wars, as they are distinctly different in terms of geography} General Crook and a band of Apache Scouts opened fire on a group of Yavapai men, women, and children who had taken refuge in a shallow cave  on the wall of what is now Apache Lake (just below Roosevelt).  The shooting did not stop until every Yavapai in the cave was dead, and their remains were left to the elements, with no ceremony or burial, until they were discovered by the Arizona Geographical Survey over 50 years later.

The World’s First Concentration Camp

 

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As the smoke began to clear up North (both the Yavapai Wars and Tonto Basin Campaign were over), it became a major focus of the United States to consolidate all Apache bands onto the desolate San Carlos Reservation.  San Carlos was a place nobody wanted, in was known as Hell’s Forty Acres.  The San Carlos Tribal Website refers to it as, “The World’s First Concentration Camp“.  This has a major effect on the peace agreement that had been reached between Cochise and General Howard the same year as the Skeleton Cave Massacre (1871):

“Without consulting the Indians, the U.S. government breaks the Cochise – Howard peace agreement by closing the Chiricahua Reservation in October and forcibly moving his people to the San Carlos Reservation where inadequate food supply, exposure to the elements, and malaria will decimate their population. About half comply. Led by Geronimo, the rest escape to Mexico. Both decisions will have lasting and devastating consequences for the Chiricahuas – (www.southernarizonaguide.com).”

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I am not an historian, nor do I really want to be.  The point of my tours is to get closer to the history that I have grown up around than I have ever been, and apply that research to making the absolute best book of tales that give back to these cultures and try to provide links to understanding and curiosity.  It is a noble goal, and it is one that is not linked at all to what we see these continuous dark examples linked to.

Why Doesn’t It End…. Why Does It Simply…. Continue?

What is the common element of these conflicts?  What is the common element of the tensions caused by the creation of San Carlos and the forced combination of rival tribal groups?  What is the common element in the attitudes expressed in popular culture when dealing with Native topics?  Like I discussed with Noah Nez, White Mountain Apache, back in my article Ashes & Ghosts, why don’t “people think of Native religions the same as other religions”?

 

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{Apache Pass}

The common element to all of this awful, tragic, loss of life, loss of respect, and cultural collapse is the lack of cultural intelligence.  It is the lack of cultural curiosity.  It is the inability to understand that other people in this world believe, love, and feel in all ways just as much, just as real, and just as validly as you do.  It is the entitled sense that you are at the center of your given universe while simultaneously denying that same entitlement to those who share the world with you.  It is a hegemonic devil.

This creates an environment where trust finds little purchase.  This creates a system of divisions and exclusions, rather than clasped hands of understanding and appreciation.  If at any point, the “oh, their land again” thought even showed up… then you should have zero problem understanding the issue.  Soon, the differences between appreciating a people, appreciating a history, appreciating a dignity and a pride…. are very obvious from appropriating them.

 

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{Fort Bowie 1862-1886}

Is it any wonder that Geronimo fought so long and so hard?  Is it any wonder that he didn’t want to leave the lush land of his birth to inhabit an arid place nobody wanted to live?  I often wondered, on this ride (twelve hours of history, heat, and solitary atonement) what it would be like to be a subjugated people.  What would it feel like to be a conquered people?  A beaten man, or a beaten parent?  I think most of us understand that feeling of powerlessness and loss, but I don’t think very many of us have ever stopped to imagine what that powerlessness would be like…. if it was total.

 

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We would fight.  We would rage.  We would break out.

or

We would be beaten.  We would surrender.  We would be enslaved.

are we really that different?

Thus were the Apache Wars.  Hundreds of Apaches, Mexicans, and White Americans lived in misery and fear and died violently because of incredibly ignorant decisions and the laziness to even want to learn about them.  Refusing to acknowledge the basic equality of others: their history, their tragedy, their joy, their myths, and their humanity – their basic right to be valid, to not be a joke – is the cement wall of cultural division.

Honest. Curious. Respectful. Education…. will knock it down.

Keep the Greasy Side Down my Friends.